BRIDGING THE GAP
Diving competitions from the Old bridge into the Neretva river hold a tradition of nearly four and a half centuries. It was back in 1566, when the bridge was first built, that the first divers to ever leap off the bridge tested their manhood from a height of 21 metres. The tradition never died down and Mostar is now central to the world famous Red Bull Cliff Diving spectacle, which gives the town a special recognition. The diving ties together the spirit and heart of the city: the famous stone bridge and the Neretva river.
The initiative to build the bridge came from none other than Suleiman the Magnificent. Legend has it that its builder, Mimar Hajrudin, who was the student of Sinan, a famous architect of the Ottoman era, left Mostar the day before it was built, as he was afraid the bridge would colapse. Not only did it survive Mimar Hajrudin’s disbelief, but it also survived the centuries that followed, until it was completely destroyed by the war in 1993. A total of 86 grenades thrown by Croatian forces sent the huge mass of stone falling into the river. It was an event that shook the world, not only because Mostar lost a piece of priceless heritage, but also because it was the death blow to a city in which Serbs, Muslims and Croats had lived in coexistence for decades.
In 2004 a “new old” bridge was built as an exact copy of the old one and is today listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. It represents a symbol of reconciliation and hope for a peaceful cohabitation of different cultures, etnic values and religions, which were divided by the catastrophic war.
Many people won’t know that the famous Mostar bridge has an older brother. On the Radobolja river, which flows into Neretva not far from the Old bridge, stands ‘Kriva Čuprija’, a small stone bridge built in 1558 that is the oldest known monument of the Turkish era in Mostar. It was supposed to be used as a prototype, as it bears an obvious resemblance to the real thing, although this is a lot bigger. A few years ago, however, it was washed away by the floods, but fortunately as a piece of cultural heritage it was rebuilt. This part of town is a romantic special venue, infused by the energy of the Radobolja river.
During the era of the Ottoman Empire, Mostar became a centre for trade and a place where most merchants and craftsmen worked between the Old bridge and the Musala. Today it is the city’s main tourist attraction and while you stroll through the “shopping centre” you can still admire goldsmiths at work. This urban whole kept all the characteristics of the Turkish times: alongside the towers and mosques you will also find lots of small craft workshops with oriental style doors and successfully rearranged restaurants. The workshops offer numerous traditional hand built products and the restaurants numerous authentic gastronomic specialities. Thanks to international financial funds this part of town has been completely renovated and includes the gracious houses of rich merchants and landlords built in Ottoman style.
The biggest congress provider in town is Mostar Fair, which has been successfully organising their fair for almost two decades (next year will be its 20th anniversary). It is a general fair, which is quite popular in BiH, and you can get an idea of its size by looking at some of the stats – 30,000m2 and attended by 750 exhibitors from 20 countries. In parallel with this is also the organisation of the Wine and viticultural equipment fair and also the Tourism Fair. All of the seven conference rooms for accompanying events are well equiped and the ensemble reminds you of a serious congress centre, currently sufficient for 20,000 covered exhibition spaces.
The city that lives and breathes tourism is home to some great motels, hotels and suites. According to official statistics there are over 1,300 beds in Mostar. The main challenge is making sure tourism is seasonal, but despite the huge potential of the city Mostar has poor airline connections. Similiar to other regional tourist destinations it is constantly recording a growth in visits, but the question is how to keep visitors there for more than just one day. This year they are expecting around 90,000 visits, which could dramatically increase by extending the season with congress tourism. Despite all of this you won’t be disappointed by the offer of restaurants, bars and nightlife, as long as you steer clear of the gastronomic tourist traps in the vicinity of major tourist attractions.
A city of special venues
Despite being packed with options for special events (and some might even say there are too many!) right now the local agencies hardly ever take advantage of them for congress guests. The Muslibegovic House is a case in point: it is a national monument, which houses a museum and a hotel with preserved details of Ottoman architecture. The covered garden with vivid flowers and palms is particularly interesting, perfect for receptions in case of bad weather. Of the historical buildings is also the Bishops Residence, a neorenaissance structure suitable for corporate receptions, and The Kajatz house that belongs to Turkish residential architecture and is filled with memories of the past. The Metropolitan Palace Neo-Baroque court is also Interesting and quite a few great venues can also be found outside of the city centre, such as Vila Radobolja. The exquisitely renovated Vila is run by the owners of City Hotel and is popular among wedding planners.
Local cuisine and wine roads near Mostar
When visiting Mostar, tasting trout (pastrmka) or any of the tasty Hercegovian wines from the vineyards by Neretva, such as Žilavka, Kameno vino, Vranac and Blatina, is definitely a must. Bosnia and Herzegovina is known for its quality food, which is fresh and prepared by amazing chefs, so visiting Mostar is a real treat for gourmets and Balkan food lovers. The food in Mostar, even in some of the higher class restaurants, is not expensive, so you won’t have to worry about the depth of your wallet. The city is home to simple restaurants specialized in grilled food, and they are practically on every corner. When they turn on their grills the seductive smell of čevapi will definitely stimulate your taste buds. They can be enjoyed at 10 in the morning or late at night and are served together with a special bread called somun. Mostly made out of lamb meat, čevapi go great with kajmak, but the locals like to finish their meal with some yogurt.
Kongres Vox Populi
The congress offer in Mostar is for now very unconnected and is concentrated on hotels with congress capacities, Mostar Fair and a few other DMCs. Hotel Mepas is a five star hotel in the city centre that houses a larger congress centre with space for 700 guests. The hotel is part of a big shopping centre, which besides their own spa and swimming pool is one of the advantages. Hotel Mostar is also one of the congress providers in the city and offers 3 congress halls for a maximum of 150 people. Hotel City is a pleasant business hotel, which offers a multifunctional conference room for 150 guests. The owners of the hotel also run a restaurant by the Neretva called Del Rio, a few bars and a nightclub called Pink Panther, which embellishes their congress offer. Hotel Bristol is also one of the congress providers, with two conference halls.
Some larger DMC companies in Mostar have focused their offer on incoming incentive groups, but the city is also covered by agencies from Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. What is missing are the specialized teambuilding agencies, which are hard to find and would be great to round up the offer.
When it comes to developing congress tourism, Mostar has quite a few advantages. It is very diverse, has a quality offer, good prices and great cuisine. Unfortunately the offer is scattered and has no focussed market point with a Mostar convention bureau, so its breakthrough is going to be hard and slow. It takes more than just building a hotel or a congress centre to put a destination on the international congress map – beautiful scenery is a good start, but when it comes to incentive stories in Mostar you are the one that will have to make it up.
WHAT'S HOT IN 2016
RECOMMENDABLE MEETING DESTINATION
5 – excellent meetings destination
4 – quality meetings destination
3 – reccommendable meetings destination
2 – average meetings destination
1 – so so
BEST INCENTIVE IDEAS
COMPARISION WITH THE REGION
The city of sun, greenery and flowers with a Mediterranean climate is currently a sleeping congress destination that overwhelms visitors with its historical story. Mostar is a lot more than just the Old bridge and stereotypes – it has all the neccessary conditions to develop congress tourism, yet it has somehow been put in the background and overlooked as a tourist product. With more focused development, initiating a convention bureau and better connectivity with congress providers, Mostar could easily compete with Adriatic congress capitals like Sarajevo or in Dalmatia.
HERZEGOVINIAN JAPRAK- The dish is sometimes called Herzegovinian Japrak, sometimes collards rolls. It originates from Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and is prepared with collards and minced mint. Collards are globally considered to be among the healthiest foods and for a reason – they are low-calorie and rich in vitamins and minerals. Collards give meat a specific aroma and you will certainly enjoy this traditional dish when in Mostar.